I confess to being interested in the controversy between the Donald and the Pope as the Republican Presidential candidate personally responded to the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question during his tour of Mexico. When asked if American Roman Catholics could vote for Donald Trump given his policy to build a wall and deport 12 million illegal immigrants, the Pope opined that if a person “only’ built walls” he was not Christian since Christians should build bridges “also.” The “Donald” interestingly, and to some degree understandably, took the comment personally and seriously as revealed by his prepared and read statement, even though the Pope did not mention him by name – the fact of the matter is that every Republican candidate supports building a wall.
So what did Pope Francis actually say? In summary, he said that it was not “Christian” to “only” build walls and not build bridges also. It must be noted that the Pope in content and context did not “pontificate” as to whether any individual was or was not a Christian but whether the policy itself was “Christian”. Furthermore, he did not say that the building of a wall was not “Christian” but that it would not be “Christian” to “only” build walls without bridges also. I would suggest that the Pope is both right and almost right.
SO HOW WAS THE POPE RIGHT?
The Pope was right when he asserted that it is “Christian” to “build bridges and not walls only.” Out of our love to Christ and our obedience to Christ, Christians are called to build relational and functional bridges out of love to those who are lost and in need of the life-changing power of the Gospel delivering us from sin’s guilt and power through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, as believers we desire to “tear down” sinful “walls of partitions” and “build Gospel bridges” so that we can walk across those bridges into the lives of men and women with the Gospel and lead them across those bridges by the power of the Holy Spirit to know Christ as Lord and Savior. But in reality we don’t actually build that bridge. That Bridge has already been built once and for all. It is the Cross of Christ built by Christ to us and for us. But we can prayerfully and thoughtfully lay out that Bridge of Life into the lives of others
SO HOW WAS THE POPE ALMOST RIGHT?
As Christians in a fallen world we are called to “build bridges” for the salvation of sinners. But as Christians in a fallen world we are also at times called to “build walls” for protection. For example as a Christian husband and father I “build walls” to protect and nurture my marriage and family. I have a wall on my computer. I have a wall of brothers who pray for me and hold me accountable. I have a house with walls and I check the doors at night. Cindy and I constructed walls of acceptable behavior for our family which were communicated and affirmed with loving discipline when necessary for our children.
Even more pointedly it is “Christian” for civil magistrates to “build walls’’ to protect their citizens since that is a primary responsibility of the government in a fallen world – to protect its citizens. But there is no requirement for civil magistrates whether they are Christians or not to “build bridges” to other nations. The walls to be built may be walls of concrete or walls of a competent police force and military service, or walls of technology for observation and detection, etc. It is “Christian” for magistrates to erect such walls with prudence. We live in a fallen world therefore it is their duty to protect the nation’s citizens, punish law-breakers and affirm those who obey the law (Rom.13). So if Christians are serving as magistrates they ought to “build bridges” to others personally or through their family and certainly through their church, but they are not under obligation to “build bridges” as a magistrate since that is not the role of the government in a fallen world. But here is where God’s Word sends us in a direction which perhaps accomplishes the actual desire of Pope Francis. Christian magistrates must “build walls” to protect citizens but it also is appropriate for them to “hang gates” for their citizens to exit and for non-citizens to enter by a compassionate yet wise foreign policy.
WALLS AND GATES
It is not “unchristian” for the Vatican where the Pope resides to be surrounded by a wall.Nor was it “unchristian” for Nehemiah to be passionately moved and Divinely-affirmed in the project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The law-breakers were running rampant over the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking the inhabitants and demoralizing a poverty-stricken city. Nehemiah was right and “Christian” to rebuild the wall for the well-being of the residents. Furthermore he was wise to involve the citizens in the project in proportion to their ability which resulted in self-respect, ownership and dignity. Much could be said about the Nehemiah project but it is crucial to remember what Nehemiah did to conclude his wall-building project.
After building the wall Nehemiah “hung the gates.” Civil magistrates not only “build walls” for protection they also “hang gates” to enter and exit. The Vatican has walls and it has gates. My house has walls and it has doors. A nation should have walls to protect its citizens but it also should have gates for entering and exiting. A nation can and should with wisdom send its citizens out and welcome others in. So it is “Christian” to promise “walls only” as a magistrate but it is also “Christian” to provide “gates.” In other words, a nation should have walls to protect its citizens and an immigration policy that welcomes both the desirable and the needy, the oppressed and the persecuted. Build the walls and then hang the gates. This nation and its citizens ought to be protected – it is Christian – and it also ought to have gates – it is Christian.
It is a historical fact there is no other nation that has been more welcoming to immigrants than the United States, and rightly so. This is a nation of immigrants and therefore should be a welcoming nation. This is also a nation which has been profoundly influenced by an imperfect Christian church proclaiming a glorious Gospel. Furthermore I hope and pray that it will continue to be impacted by a maturing Church which not only announces the Gospel in word and deed but also engages the public square with a public theology producing public policies creating both a culture of safety and hope for its citizens and a culture of hospitality which will bring through its gates the wanted and the hopeful. As for the 12 million, I am convinced that if walls are built for protection and gates are hung to be opened and closed with an immigration policy of wisdom and compassion, then a policy marked by a thoughtful mercy and the rule of law will be implemented to deal with those now residing within the nation’s borders. So build the wall – it’s Christian; hang the gates – it’s Christian; while Christ’s church and His people build the Bridge of Life to everyone – near and far away.